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If you need a reason to visit bonnie Scotland then the world-renowned Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo is a good one! It’s a dazzling event with a wonderful array of military bands, bagpipers, choreographed dance numbers, stunning fireworks, a light show, talented singers, colorful costumes, the occasional jet fly-over, you name it– and it’s all held right in the heart of the city.
It’s like a party for your senses. In fact, think the Olympic Opening Ceremonies except with a centuries-old medieval castle in the background all lit up in bright bold colors and gorgeous graphics.
But, like Scotland which is getting more and more popular so is the Edinburgh Tattoo. Of course, with popularity comes crowds and I won’t sugar coat it– Edinburgh is crazy crowded in August. It’s like salmon swimming upstream in a sea of people going downstream.
However, any event this spectacular is worth a little extra effort and with our tips and tricks hopefully, you can get through it a little easier.
First A Few Tattoo Stats:
- When: Every August for a 3 week season. Nightly shows Monday-Friday, and 2 shows on Saturday. SUNDAYS are dark
- Where: Edinburgh Castle Esplanade
- Seating: A bleacher type venue that holds close to 9,000 people
- Tickets: Over 200,000 tickets are sold each season
- Length: The show is about 100 minutes long
- Weather: Rain or shine. It has never been canceled for weather.
1. Buy Early, Buy Online
Tickets are released in early December. Sign up on their mailing list here for news and ticket sale dates. Tickets sell out every year so get them as early as possible, seriously they sell out. We bought ours as soon as they were released in December. Just in case you’re planning to bring all your neighbors here’s a heads up–there is an 8 ticket limit.
You can buy the tickets directly online at The Royal Edinburgh Tattoo website, there is a £6.50 charge for booking online. But it’s worth it.
Personally, I would have the tickets mailed to you. We’ve done will call and snail mail, I think snail mail is the best. Then you have them in hand and no fighting the crowds to get to the box office on Cockburn Street to pick up the tickets.
Of course, you do have to be a responsible adult and not lose them. I’m lucky, Mike is Mr. Responsible. He is very organized and loves papers and folders–plus he always feels better knowing we have our tickets in hand. So we like them mailed ahead.
But, as my spin teacher always says–“You do you” meaning whatever works for YOU is the best way.
IMPORTANT: Will-Call is not at the venue, it’s on Cockburn Street about 10 minutes away
2. Buy The Best Seat You Can Afford
Honestly, there’s not a bad seat in the house, even the ‘nose bleed’ seats aren’t horrible. What it really boils down to is this…At what angle do you want to see the show?
We get the Premier seats, which sounds pretty fancy. It’s not, it just means you sit at the end of the venue (pink section) looking directly at the castle. It’s the best seats in the house in my opinion because the performers and the castle are facing you but it’s also the most expensive.
I am sure there are some that would argue for a closer seat in the middle of the stadium. Not me, I don’t want to look at a side view. But the performers do twirl, turn, and move all over the place, so the mid-yellow and blue sections might not be bad either—in fact, let’s quote my spin teacher again….’ you do you ‘ since tickets are a personal thing.
Here’s the entire 2019 seating chart and price list– just to give you a better idea.
It’s not a cheap venture, but if I am going to travel all that way to see a show then I want to sit close enough to see the color of their lipsticks–as you can see by Miss ‘MAC Very Berry’ below, haha.
3. Just Like Your Mail Delivery–It’s Rain Or Shine!
Now that’s irony, right? Dancing in the rain- to “Singing in the Rain”. Although it’s not a big ‘stretch’ in Scotland–the place where the weather can change from sun to rain and back to sun again in a matter of 10 minutes.
The point is when they say rain or shine they mean it. This was our show in attended in 2017, it started out sunny and by the end, there were cats and dogs falling from the skies.
FYI–There are absolutely no umbrellas allowed in the venue! Here’s the hot tip—bring a blanket, a poncho and a wide-brimmed hat. The poncho is like a body tent for the rain, and the hat will keep you shaded in the sun or the rain off your face if it pours.
For ponchos, hats and more ideas on what to bring to the Edinburgh Tattoo, shop our Amazon store!
Shop Our Edinburgh Military Tattoo Must-Haves
4. Don’t Book A Saturday 7:15 pm Show
The Tattoo people may not be happy with me for this tip but it’s the truth. Not to mention I was a little perturbed there wasn’t some kind of disclosure before we bought them. In the theatre, they warn you before you buy it a ticket with an ‘obstructed view’. It should have been the same with this show.
So what’s the problem? The problem is that in August the sun is high in the sky and it’s still light out at 7:15 pm! That means if you attend the 7:15 pm performance you miss 95% of the light show because it’s still light out! You do get a little peek at the end because the sun finally sets, but not enough to be worthwhile.
Bottom line, skip the Saturday at 7:15 pm show! The lights and background graphics are spectacular so you don’t want to miss out. All the other showtimes are dark enough and will be fine.
5. Skip The Packages
There are many packages you can buy for the Tattoo in addition to your tickets. Personally, I would save your money and buy a really great seat instead. I think the only advantage to a package is skipping the queues.
Like this Piper’s Package above. You get a meal in the Cafe which is about 15 minutes down the hill at the National Gallery. After that you line up behind a bagpiper and just like the children’s fairytale, you follow him/her back up the hill and straight into the castle while he pipes you a few tunes.
But even with chaos, crowds and long queues, I don’t think it’s worth the extra £145-ish not to wait in line.
6. Don’t Get Stuck On The Wrong Side Of The Tracks
Yes, folks that is the entrance to Edinburgh Castle during the Military Tattoo, and yes that line was as crazy as it looked.
So the tip is–when you line up, you want to be behind Mr. Pink Boa on the Johnston Terrace side on Johnston Terrace–not in front like I was on the Royal Mile (Lawnmarket) side!
Why? Because an hour before the show they will cordon off that entire roundabout where he is standing. It will be used as a tourist bus turn around ONLY, no pedestrians are allowed to cross the street until the gazillion tourist buses have finished dropping off all their ‘charges’. That turned into one very long and crowded wait.
So plan ahead and make sure you are on the right side of the gates when they put them up.
As far as the time to line up, everyone has a theory about that. The gates open 45 minutes before the show, and they want you seated 15 minutes before the show. Some say go really early to line up, some say go as late as possible. We were in the middle and paid the price. It’s your call on that one, but at least you will be on the right side of the road when you do show up!
7. The Population Doubles In August And So Should Your Patience
In Scotland, they have to take advantage of the narrow window of nice weather and longer daylight that occurs in August. So as soon as that hits–it’s like they waved the checkered flag and opened the flood gates. It’s people, people everywhere, especially on the Royal Mile.
You will see lots of locals enjoying the weather and oodles of tourists on their summer holidays. Yes, it’s crowded but if you are mentally prepared and patient, it can be fun and exhilarating.
Besides all the people hanging out in the usual places like Rose Street, George Street, Victoria Street, Grassmarket Area, and tourist spots, there are also 4 festivals, concerts and pop up venues going on at the same time too. So be prepared–maybe cut down on the coffee or drink decaf during that time, haha.
- The Edinburgh Festival Fringe
- Edinburgh International Festival
- Edinburgh International Film Festival
- Edinburgh Art Festival
- Summer Sessions in Prince Street Gardens
- Festival Village (Waverly Mall)
- Assembly Festival
We love Scotland and have been many times and don’t really need an excuse to go anymore. But like the title says we’ve been to the Military Tattoo twice just because it’s a great event, and will probably go again someday.
But once you’ve experienced the Tattoo– you should definitely plan to go back again in the fall when it’s quieter and you can really enjoy the city. Or there’s another great event in the summer called HebCelt -a great music festival on the Isle of Lewis that is fabulous and a good reason to visit if the Tattoo isn’t your thing–you can read more about HebCelt here.
For more ideas on what to do in Scotland check out these posts:
- “Uncover These Hidden Treasures On the Isle of Skye”
- “Two of the Best Slow Travel Towns in Scotland”